At least they had sense enough not to call it a Victory Party. The event that brought a couple hundred Republicans together Tuesday night at City Center West, an office park on Madison's far west side, was dubbed an "Election Night Watching Party." Most people there knew that John McCain and Sarah Palin were not likely to win.
Of course, that doesn't mean they were not delusional.
"The guy has no experience," one of the attendees was saying loudly to another, as I entered the large conference room with two giant TV screens. The man, a mustached fellow of about 50, was incensed.
"The people of this country are so stupid and nave, they can't see this stuff," Mr. Mustache was saying. "They can't see the writing on the wall."
There was writing on the wall all right. It was about 7:40 p.m. and the media had just called Pennsylvania for Barack Obama. I positioned myself within earshot of Mr. Mustache, and jotted down as much as I could.
He was talking about how the media was obviously biased in Obama's favor. "I get so sick of that stuff. I can't tell you how sick," he shared, launching into a list of things he could not tolerate. One was: "I can't tolerate same-sex marriage. The Democrats are big on that."
I briefly considered asking what he was talking about, since Obama and Biden and the Democratic Party are all opposed to gay marriage. But he was soon on to another topic.
"They're going to throw the Bible away," he announced. "You know, it wouldn't surprise me if the Democrats started using the Koran."
Mr. Mustache was on a roll. "And Pelosi, somebody ought to give her a broom and say, 'Fly away on this thing.'"
The huge TV screens were locked on to Fox News. The sound was just loud enough to hear but few people seemed to be listening. Besides, from my perspective, Mr. Mustache was more interesting.
"They're going to raise taxes," he intoned, invoking the specter of a Democratic president as well as Democratic Congress. "You can't stop them. They're totally unstoppable." The person he was talking to nodded in agreement.
"And then this business about spreading the wealth," Mr. Mustache continued. "What a crock! I don't make a lot of money. He'll probably take what I have and give it to some homeless person on the street."
Later in the evening, Mr. Mustache saw my name tag, which identified me as being with Isthmus, and struck up a conversation. Turns out he's a regular reader. Nice guy.
Bill Richardson, the media coordinator for the Dane County Republicans, encouraged me to talk to the group's vice chair, Dave Baker, if I was looking for someone to quote. I asked if the chair, who I've spoken to in the past but whose name I couldn't remember, was present.
Yes, said Richardson, pointing out a tall, stocky fellow in a blue shirt and tie. Richardson told me the man's name, but asked me not to use it. He said business relationships could be imperiled if this information came out.
So I spoke to Dave Baker. It was just about 8 p.m., and Fox News was saying Obama had 200 electoral votes in the bag compared to McCain's 81. I asked why he thought the election was turning out this way.
"Money can buy an election," Baker reflected, referring to the "media blitz and robo-calls" coming from the Obama campaign. I mentioned that I had gotten quite a few robo-calls, but almost all were from Republicans. Baker allowed that there were other reasons for the Democrats' success.
"Obama has an excellent delivery. He has a way of telling people what they want to hear." The economy was hurting, and Obama promised relief.
But Baker, a retired WPS exec, said Obama's plan just did not add up. He's promised to cut taxes for most Americans, but according to Baker, 40% of the American public isn't paying taxes anyway. Moreover, "I'm very concerned about his redistribution of wealth, which is contrary to the American tradition. We're a democracy, not a socialist state."
I pointed out that, in fact, Obama merely wants to rescind the tax cuts for the wealthy that John McCain himself once opposed. Baker allowed he didn't know enough about it to say.
By this time, I had again forgotten the name of the Dane County Republican Party chair. I wanted to say hello to the man, who was virtually the only person in the room not wearing a name tag. I asked Baker, but he refused to say: "I'm not sure he wants that public."
Later, a photographer from a student paper told me he'd been instructed not to take anyone's photo or quote them without permission. He says he was told this was because there could be serious consequences for some people if it were to come to light that they were Republicans.
Just after 8:30 p.m., the chairman whose name is secret made an announcement from the podium: "It's looking to be a little bleak but there's a long way to go." The room was filling with people. There was lots of food. That's one nice thing about GOP events -- there's always a good spread. Democrats usually just put out a couple of bowls of popcorn and pretzels.
David Blaska was there, remarking dryly that he was "clinging to my guns and my God." There were a group of young women wearing what appeared to be prom dresses with ridiculous high heels. There was a young man with a blond Mohawk strip dyed in his short black hair and a McCain-Palin sticker on his back. I listened in as he was interviewed by WTDY radio. Mr. Mohawk said he was attracted to McCain because he cared about truth, like all of the babies that are aborted. Just think, if this hadn't happened, "how much more money would be in Social Security today."
I interviewed Peter Theron, who made a failed bid to unseat Rep. Tammy Baldwin. He noted that his candidacy raised some issues that might not otherwise have been raised and gave people who didn't like Baldwin an alternative -- both valid points. He wishes he had started his campaign earlier, and indicated he might try again. What about a more local position, like County Board? Theron said he was more interested in national issues and, besides, he had all these Theron for Congress yard signs. Good answer.
Perhaps the most astounding contribution to the festivities was when Dr. Kenneth Luedke, the chiropractor (now retired), went around the room handing out a four-page printout of an email (PDF), to everyone. "Something to think about for the future," he said, as he handed one to me. The first thing I noticed was that it was wastefully printed on only one side of the page; the second was that it was utterly insane.
The handout was a transparently fraudulent letter entitled "A German lady remembers and speaks." What this German lady remembered was that Adolf Hitler came to power during a period of economic crisis while promising "change." The next thing you know, the Holocaust. The woman went on to warn that history was apparently repeating itself.
"I have heard what this man Obama says about abortion and the 'mercy killing' of babies who are not wanted," the letter said. "Where are your voices? Where is your outrage? Where is passion and your vote? Do you vote based on an abortionist's empty promises and economics? Or do you vote according to the Bible?"
I looked around the room and saw people reading the letter. No one seemed to think it was out of bounds. When I caught up to Dr. Luedtke later, it was clear I was the first person to challenge him on it. "What's your point?" I asked. "That Barack Obama is as bad as Adolf Hitler?"
Oh no, Dr. Luedtke replied, only that he might bring about something similar, perhaps inadvertently. The letter was just food for thought, something to consider. By the way, Luedtke is also a loyal Isthmus reader. And a pretty nice guy.
There was a well-known real estate developer who had several empty beer cans on the table in front of him. He was marveling at how well McCain was doing, despite being clearly on his way to losing the election. "I'm surprised he was able to keep it this close," the man told me. "This should have been a regular Reagan-Mondale blowout." Why did he think McCain was not losing even more badly?
"I don't know," the developer said. "I have no idea." Diogenes, you can stop looking.
There were speeches by Theron and Carl Skalitzke, a failed candidate for state Assembly. Skalitzke was talking about the need to recruit more GOP candidates. "I have a digital camera, and I ran for state Assembly," he said. "If you have a digital camera, you can run for state Senate."
It's hard to argue with logic like that.
I didn't stay to watch the audience respond to John McCain's gracious concession speech from Arizona, so I don't know if the Republicans of Madison booed Obama, as did McCain's audience. I headed home just in time to hear Obama give his stirring victory address from Chicago. Just as I arrived, I saw two deer leaping across my front yard. I'm pretty sure they were Democrats.